EA and Visceral Games want you to know that your mother hates Dead Space 2.  Seriously, she’s pretty fucking freaked out.  It’d be strange if she didn’t turn away in disgust as you take Isaac Clarke on his second romp through his alien-infested survival-horror shooter.  “Now you’re playing with other people?! This orgy of death and dismemberment can only end in tears, shame and hours of family counseling!” she screams as you tear into the brand new multiplayer mode.  And whatever you do, don’t tell her you’ve already beaten it and are playing through the story mode again using New Game Plus; I don’t think she could handle it.

If you don’t remember the name I threw out last paragraph or don’t feel like looking up, Isaac Clarke returns as the main character from his mind-altering experiences aboard the USG Ishimura in the original Dead Space.  Previously, Isaac went onboard the Ishimura when their communications system suddenly went out, and instead of fixing a phone line or replacing some fuses, had to shoot the limbs extraneous limbs off of the infected crew.  Basically, Dead Space is what happens when the Maytag Man goes on a repair call and is ambushed by a pack of bloodthirsty monsters instead of lonely housewives with nowhere to be at 1:30 on a Monday.

Dead Space 2 continues shortly after the original, with the ramifications of Isaac’s ordeal wearing his nerves thin.  And, despite popular belief, being forced to survive on a desolate spaceship overrun with monsters will turn you into a basket case much faster than it will turn you into a badass.  Throughout the game, the player watches Isaac attempt to overcome the effects of the first game, with disturbing hallucinations and dialogues with his “dead” girlfriend.  These are some of the most interesting, disturbing and truly frightening moments of the game, as the surprisingly deep story and background slowly piece themselves together.

Now you might be saying to yourself, “I think it’s really cool that my mom doesn’t like the games I play because I’m such a rebel, but what’s so great about Dead Space 2, anyway? I’ve already played other survival-horror games; why is this one different?” First of all, shut the hell up.  Second, I’ll tell you.  The Dead Space franchise takes survival-horror beyond the creepy atmosphere and the shortage of bullets by asking you to block out the side of your brain that says “holy crap, that monster is scary” and “I better pump it full of laser-death” and think things through.  You won’t get anywhere in Dead Space 2 if you go into Rambo mode, because you’ll turn Isaac into a pile of steaming meat faster than you can say “Mom, can you clean the fear-induced shit out of my pants?” By focusing and taking some time to aim, you’ll discover that you need to shoot, stomp and punch off any and all arms, legs, tentacles and other appendages in order to stop the necromorph epidemic.

“But that sounds scary.  I don’t think I’m quite smart enough to handle that or to ignore my self-diagnosed ADHD and the trigger-happy state it puts me in,” you say.  Well, fear not young pants-shitter, as Dead Space 2 affords you plenty of opportunities to slow things down.  Using your special powers of “stasis”, you can temporarily “freeze” monsters and other objects in a super slowed-down state.  This not only allows you to carefully pick off limbs, but also allows you to step out of the way of charging monsters and pass through other hazards.  Or you can use your telekinesis to pick up rods, broomsticks and other sharp objects and nail necromorphs to the wall – they tend to stop moving after that.

Other than your special abilities, the game also offers you a slew of weapons to choose from when battling the extraterrestrial undead.  You’ll find space-ified versions of more traditional weapons like the plasma cutter, line gun, and pulse rifle that double as your standard pistol, shotgun, and sub-machine gun, respectively. However, the game does add in its share of unique killing tools, my favorite being the ripper – a gun that shoots floating saw blades.  Unfortunately, most of the weapons are far too impractical and specialized to be kept in your limited inventory slots, or are just so terrible that you never want to use them.  Combine that with the fact that most of the weapons are recycled from the first game and you’ll be even less impressed.

These weapons, as well as your suit and stasis modules, can be upgraded and purchased at one of the games many workbenches and stores.  I’m not sure what’s more ridiculous, the apparent use of typewriters in a modern setting seen in the old Resident Evil games or the weapons-dealing vending machines in Dead Space 2.  You think the US has problems with gun control?  Imagine trying to buy yourself a can of Coke only to have the machine spit out a revolver and a pack of ammo. I’m not saying it could happen, but if it does, just try not to mistake which one to put in your mouth.

Workbenches allow you to spend hard-to-find power nodes to upgrade your gear in a variety of different parameters, including damage and ammo capacity.  What I really liked was the fact that I could re-do the power nodes on a weapon for a small fee if I wanted to try something different or screwed up- a much needed improvement over the “you’re fucked” permanency in the original game.

But what Dead Space 2 does change, far more than anything else, is the setting.  What seems like a somewhat obvious point to make becomes a serious point of discussion for a survival-horror game.  The first game had Isaac almost entirely alone and devoid of any contact with anyone on (mostly) one spaceship.  The game frequently had you doubling back through areas of the ship, pushing a sense of isolation and loneliness that change drastically in Dead Space 2.  The massive space station you awake to in Dead Space 2 is breathtaking in its scope, but robs you of the feeling of total isolation in a contained environment.  Also, the amount of interaction you have with other characters has increased dramatically, losing that sense of loneliness even further.  I’m not saying that Dead Space 2 is no longer scary, but it’s scarier in significantly different ways from the first.

As a way to extend the experience, Dead Space 2 offers a brand-new multiplayer mode, as well as New Game Plus, which lets you carry over all of the suits, weapons and upgrades from your previous game into a new one.  This is great if you want to breeze through what was previously more of a challenge, or tackle harder difficulties with an updated arsenal.  And, completing the game will give you access to Hardcore Mode.  In this mode, your ammo and health supplies are at their minimum, the monsters are at their toughest, and you can only save the game three times.  And, if you die, you return back to your last save.  You should probably ask Mom to stock up on some adult diapers, as trying to complete a nine hour game in such strict parameters affords little to no bathroom time.

I was fairly unimpressed with the multiplayer, though I never expected it to blow me away.  The game type varies by each map, with different objectives indicating different game types.  For the most part, it’s your standard ‘king of the hill’ or ‘capture the flag’ game with the human team vs. the necromorph team.  There’s also an obligatory “level-up” feature to the multiplayer, now present in nearly every online shooter, as an attempt to keep you hooked.  The multiplayer works, to say the least, but it’s certainly not the main draw of the game by any stretch, and I doubt the player base will last beyond curious first-time players.

Despite an ad campaign so laughably ridiculous that it’s almost embarrassing to say I bought it, I don’t regret picking up Dead Space 2. It should come as no surprise when I say if you enjoyed the original Dead Space or survival horror games, you’ll probably enjoy this one too. The subtle changes they’ve made have been mostly for the better, and have reached a near perfect balance between keeping things the same and changing them up.  You may not stay for the multiplayer or have time for New Game Plus, but this unique twist on survival horror as well as the harrowing tale of Isaac Clarke should be more than enough.

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